Ameera set to reach for the stars

JOHN HARVEY

Not many people know what they want to be when they “grow up”, and are even less certain when the school guidance counsellor poses that most inevitable of questions.

Teenagers have hopes and dreams, to be sure; it’s just that at the age of 15 very few will be able to tell you exactly what these are. The combination of raging hormones and social pressure tend to make a habit of clouding future ambitions.

Yet the minute Ameera Juta stepped onto the stage during a Pinelands High School production of the hit musical Hairspray, her path became clear: “One day I will go to Broadway.”

A mere five years later, and Ameera’s dream is so close she can taste it.

After a gruelling round of auditions earlier this year, the University of the Western Cape BA student has been named in the cast of Miriam Makeba Mama Africa – The Musical, a tribute show celebrating the life of the South African music legend, which will play to audiences in Cape Town before being staged in America in September.

“I believe we will be spending our last week in New York. It will be incredible if I can see Broadway,” the affable 20-year-old told the Tatler this week.

Miriam Makeba Mama Africa – The Musical tells the story of the struggles and successes of one of South Africa’s most important and interesting figures, and features 30 of her most popular songs. It also gives the audience insight into why these songs were written.

The show also marks the 30th anniversary of the relationship between UWC and the University of Missouri.

With the first performance being staged at Cape Peninsula University of Technology, from today until May 28, Ameera has been hard at work preparing for her most important role to date.

“Throughout my school career, I loved acting, and it was always something I wanted to do as a career. However, my parents (Ismail and Jameela) also emphasised the value of a good education, which was I enrolled at UWC after finishing at Pinelands High School,” she said.

“I had looked at the Waterfront Theatre School, but, in the end, I decided to do a BA at UWC because I am also very interested in journalism. I actually hadn’t acted for a while, but then an email went round campus last year advertising auditions for the Miriam Makeba show. I couldn’t believe it when I got in, particularly since dancing was not my forte.

“We had to do a dance piece and a monologue. I prepared something for singing and acting, but eventually just did my own thing – and I managed to convince them I could manage a dancing role.”

Ameera said she could not have asked for more support from her friends and family since landing the role.

“My folks are so excited, and are already buying tickets for the shows. My boyfriend, Justin Snelling, has been amazing as well. He’s always asking whether he can drive me to rehearsals.”

However, she is under no illusions that balancing her studies with her burgeoning professional acting career will be a challenge.

“I need to focus on my exams before anything else. Then there’s the trip to America in September, before I have to continue my studies again. It’s going to be tough, but, hopefully, I will manage my schedule with the input of UWC.”

The avowed Tom Hanks fan said she had been incredibly inspired by her fellow cast members.

“They are amazing and so professional in everything they do. In the begining, I was so intimidated and upset after every audition. Now I have the support of everyone.”

Ameera said if she had one message for other young actors it would be never to give up on their dream.

“If you really want it, just go for it. But remember it takes a lot of hard work as well.”

Tickets to Miriam Makeba Mama Africa – The Musical are available from Computicket. Shows take place at the CPUT Auditorium, Bellville Campus from 7pm.